Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brian Marsden, Tracker of Comets, Dies at 73

Brian G. Marsden, who for decades was the go-to guy for thousands of stargazers when a comet or an asteroid would streak through the heavens — or, by his calculations, was supposed to — died Thursday in Burlington, Mass. From 1968 to 2000, Dr. Marsden was director of the archaic-sounding Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, which was founded by the International Astronomical Union in 1920.

In that capacity he was, in effect, the world’s central source of information about the latest astronomical discoveries. As Sky & Telescope magazine said in 1980: “Marsden presides over an international network, including both professional and amateur astronomers, that sends word of the latest discovery winging over the telegraph wires in time for observatories on the other side of the world to catch a nova still brightening, or a new-found comet. As the official certifier of such discoveries, Marsden is probably quoted in newspapers more frequently than any other astronomer in the world.”

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